With red carpet season inexplicably upon us, it’s time for whole population to start pretending they saw films they didn’t see again. Thanks to Wikipedia plot summaries, America can pretend to engage with a ceremony it only partially cares about and will make Uncle Sam uncomfortably aware about the fact that his favorite movie of the decade is still Transformers: Age of Extinction. But hell. I genuinely enjoy the Academy Awards, and now get to enjoy all the films thanks to Google Play, Netflix and the assortment of less popular and random apps, like Crackle (somehow a real thing) that you nab a movie off from time to time at a moronic friends place. Finally, I can make fair and honest determinations of who deserves the statues of the knights with no conceivable connection to filmmaking, and who gets to stand them up on the mantelpiece to eventually be used by their fifth wife to beat away the members of an angry heroine cartel. Probably a true story. Lets assume its a true story, and move on. The point is that its time to hold films, the worst of which are light years better than I’m capable of producing, and put them under a serious grill. Lets talk turkey, which was was originally a completely random thought but that I’ll now convert to a bad Birdman joke.
The Academy Awards
Best Picture: As if I’d actually start with best picture.
Best Supporting Actor: This category features my strongest aversion to the decisions made over at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Nonexistant Sciences, for failure to recognize some of the best acting of the year. JK Simmons may have been terrifying and exceptional, but unfortunately, his performance had the same problem as the rest of the film; its just goddamn jazz, people. Coincidentally, I said the same thing right after the film and really took the steam out the day of the guy sitting behind me with a PhD in Charles Mingus Studies. Yes, its a multilayered film with some probing points about both obsession and achievement that can be applied to almost anything. But for the film to transcend the barrier, Simmons needed to be just a tiny bit meaner. Admittedly, he comes damn close, and certain scenes carry such scathing venom that it would make a bird-eating spider uncomfortable. But then he pulls it back, and you land right back in an overly glorified representation of the modern jazz universe. It recalls a similarly passionate but far more menacing performance, the performance that takes home my bid for best supporting actor despite not even being nominated. As much as I hate to open things up with a middle finger, Marco Perella turned in the best performance of the year as the alcoholic, brutal stepdad in Boyhood. Perella carries considerably less screen time than his opponent, the transition from pleasantly odd to nearly homicidal drunk is something to behold, and far more frightening than a bald conductor kicking over chairs.
Best Supporting Actress: Lets get this one over with, because its a landslide. Patricia Arquette defies conventional logic in her portrayal of Olivia Evans, inhabiting the character expertly over the long years of shooting and yet progressing her with each new episode in the narrative. Marco Perella is phenomenal, but her expert blend of emotional strength and physical helplessness is something to behold. Emma Stone is good in Birdman, but not good enough to hold a torch to Arquette. Frankly, we live in a hell of a world when the entire cast of Superbad (a movie that had 5+ minutes of screen time devoted to doodled penises) has been nominated for Academy Awards. I’m not complaining, but lets stop a straw and a hair short of actually handing the damn things over. Knightley needs to a tic tac every once in a while before she falls over, and was so insignificant to the success of The Imitation Game that she can’t come close to the champ.
Best Original Screenplay: Alright, lets cool it on the Boyhood nods. Best original screenplay unfortunately looks like a nod for The Grand Budapest Hotel. It has consistently been beyond my understanding why certain eyes in Hollywood look upon Wes Anderson’s absurd doll house theatrics as comedy, let alone as worthwhile cinema – so clearly, thats out the window. Boyhood didn’t have a finished screenplay when it started shooting, and one of the criteria for a best original screenplay is existence. And lets not even bother going into Foxcatcher. If the worth of a screenplay was determined entirely by the amounting of pages devoted to men wrestling, watching wrestling, or doing absolutely nothing, Foxcatcher would have this locked up. Credit to MF and DF for tackling a truly bizarre and original story, but a dark murder tale has a clearly defined limit on the amount of short shorts in the film. That limit gets violated aggressively, and frankly, theres plenty of that going on already. Thus, I hand the top spot to a dark horse but a personal favorite. Nightcrawler was pure adrenaline, with just enough humor and action to offset the pervasive darkness. As good as Jake G was, the dialogue was a powerful ally and drove the remarkably formal and professional depravity towards a memorable finish.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Probably the only shortlist in this years ceremony that isn’t staggeringly memorable is the screenplay for the best guys to take preexisting separate fiction and define its legacy themselves. Paul Thomas Anderson falls devastatingly short of expectations with Inherent Vice, which has comedic value and broad appeal but ultimately just doesn’t amount to anything. PTA thrives in the realm of uncomfortable, unnerving cinema, and his most recent work too actively occupies a different world altogether. The screenplay to Whiplash was clearly just the words “he rips a sweet drum solo” tossed around in a structural salad bowl with the dialogue from Asian parenting brochures. Whiplash will get its due credit in other places. American Sniper was entertaining but classically generic, ultimately giving no more and no less than expected. In timeless fashion, it proves again why films like Jarhead are so much more valuable – films with the courage to say something concrete about the war in the Middle East that generates the controversy it deserves. Call me a communist, but my favorite dose of adapted screenwriting this year was The Imitiation Game. Admittedly, victory comes with the dreaded asterisk. The amount of historical inaccuracies in The Imitation Game makes Selma look like a goddamn documentary, but the operable word remains; adapted. Moore took a story that had the potential to entertain, and that deserved to be told, and he spruced her up and bought her a new dress. And for producing something so entertaining out of a ballad that was quite literally about math, I salute him.
Best Actress: I didn’t love Gone Girl, but seeing Rosamund Pike transform from a perfect goddess into a total train wreck was absolutely astonishing. To then see her brutally murder Neil Patrick Harris, the most popular person in the world and the man who will be hosting the goddamn ceremony…#emotionalrollercoaster. Maybe we all just want a woman with movie star good looks who has almost no ethical reaction to various bouts of killing and framing other people for murder. It’s called high maintenance, guys. Or maybe, like the rest of America, I just had a deep and dark longing to see NPH get brutally executed. Rosamund, darling, its all you.
Best Actor: A tough category. Eddie Redmayne finds success playing the person he was clearly cloned from, but lies far from the cigar. Steve Carell is dark and enthusiastically creepy in Foxcatcher, but his performance inevitably suffers due to the slightly surreal nose job performed by the makeup team. At times, you buy it. But at other times, you can’t help but think its just a guy in a weird Halloween costume. The real contender here is Benerdict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch also flirts with the aforementioned asterisk next to his bizarre name, since his portrayal of Turing has come under fire for an equally obscure basis in reality. But regardless of historical accuracies, Cumberbatch is at his all-time best. Initially channelling the pretentious air of superiority and oddball behavior honed in Sherlock before reversing it to appeal to the audience at the ideal moment in the narrative, Cumberbatch rising to the occasion and comes out on top. Despite yourself, you desperately want Alan Turning to succeed. It’s a photo finish between Cumberbatch and Keaton, but the latter takes the cake. And he almost certainly will tomorrow. Discussed further in my Birdman review, Keaton inhabits the metaphysical roll with frightening ease, undoubtedly revealing in the role of a lifetime. Considering a majority of the films action plays out with the camera following his face around a theater, the success of this wildly successful film rested squarely on his shoulders.
Best Director: The toughest category. The nominations hardly do justice to some of the best directed films of the year, failing to include Damien Chazelle, Dan Gilroy and Ava DuVernay. Whiplash is frighteningly inconsistent, but the sheer intensity of the rehearsal scenes is enough to put it at the top of the years pile. Chazelle’s vision drifts in and out of the mind of the protagonist, sometimes working as a moving surrealistic look at obsession and sometimes as a vehicle to glorify a dying brand of music that he clearly has a strong affinity for. Vying for top spot are two equally astonishing directorial efforts. Birdman is arguably one of the most original filmmaking visions of the 21st Century, and Alejandro blows the lid off of convention in his ambitious technical masterpiece. There is truly nothing quite like Birdman. But unfortunately, theres nothing quite like Boyhood either. Linklater has always had an under-appreciated mastery of likeability, and the incredible scope of the concept and the intimacy of the execution are unprecedented. Linklater undoubtedly gets the absolute best of his cast, and his crowning achievement is a film that also has no real precedent. But after some good, old-fashioned and vaguely uncomfortable Foxcatcher style wrestling in my brain, Birdman comes out on top for sheer originality of creative execution and vision coupled with astounding technical proficiency.
Best Picture: Some tend to look at best picture as a standalone award, independent of the weight carried by the films success in other categories. Selma, the victim of the annual snub, sneaks into best picture contention without amassing any other major nominations. But I wholeheartedly disagree. The elements of a film are represented in the other categories, and the greatest successes in these respective units must determine the success of the film itself. The dissenters will argue that methods useful for determining the success of college basketball teams can’t possibly be useful for films, but the dissenters are wrong. Thus, Selma suffers from its lack of stars despite its power as a narrative, and falls short of the mark. The Imitation Game has some of the better writing and acting of the year with fluid directing, but the creative liberties taken tarnish an otherwise shining legacy. Boyhood is packed full of exceptional acting performances, and the directing vision is worthy of a statuette. Unfortunately, Casper the Friendly Screenplay does Linklater’s masterpiece no favors. Linklater’s film might have nabbed the top spot at plenty of award shows from days of past and future, but can’t edge out the film of the year in a wildly competitive 2015 class. With uncompromising vision and stellar performances from every single cast member, spurred on by some stunning pioneering visual techniques, Birdman is the Best Picture of 2015. In all likelihood, that title will be official by tonight.